Oh! How the mighty has fallen. In 2011, Jonathan Nolan created Person of Interest, a TV show that aired on CBS for five full seasons. During that time, the show created an impressive amount of world-building, an amazing set of characters, excellent villains, and a fantastic pulsing plot full of mysteries and twists. What began in the first season as a standard procedural TV show, ended up as one of the most exceptional science fiction TV series in recent memory.
After Person of Interest ended, Nolan joined his wife Lisa Joy in the creation of a new TV series, this time for the mighty Goliath of television that is HBO. That show would be Westworld, a remake in the form of a TV show, based on the popular movie from the 70s that was written and directed by Michael Crichton. The show would explore ideas the film had already presented, and it would develop them even further, as Nolan and Joy would also be adding parts of ideas that they had already used in Person of Interest. It seemed that Westworld could not fail.
Season 1 came, and with it, a ton of promotion and a ton of hype, as the show became one of the biggest shows on the network, and also one of the most expensive shows they had ever produced. Taking into consideration that the show grabbed that title while being on air at the same time as the last seasons of Game of Thrones, it was an achievement. The money spent on the show could be seen on the screen. The budget allowed the production to have impressive sets, solid VFX, tons of extras, and an impressive cast of actors.
What money could not buy for Westworld was good writing. The first season was heavy on plot, but at least the shot tried to build up some characters. Starting with Dolores, who would become the show’s star for the first couple of seasons, thanks to an impressive performance by Evan Rachel Wood. Jeffrey Wright, as Bernard, and Anthony Hopkins, as Robert Ford, all became fan favorites. However, with the closing of season 1 and the closing of season 2, it became clear that the characters were not the series’ main concern.
Ideas have always been an important part of science fiction, without them the genre would not even exist. Nevertheless, ideas by themselves don’t make a good story, and definitely don’t make good television. Season 2 of Westworld was heavy on ideas, and the characters fell behind considerably until they were completely forgotten by season 3. Season 3 tried to shake up the status quo of the show, it was a shake in all the wrong ways by taking away every single aspect that made the show’s first season so unique.
And now we are at Season 4. Could it be that Nolan and Joy, and their team of writers, learned something from Season 3’s reception? Maybe they would put more focus on the characters? Perhaps they would try to make something a bit more entertaining, fluid, and heartwarming? The answer to those questions is a big no. Season 4 is exactly as seasons 2 and 3 before it, if not worse. As the show is trying to grab the audience’s hearts by making tons of references to itself, while also playing already old plot twists as if they were brand new.
The scenario that Westworld paints in this fourth season is the logical scenario that would have resulted from an idea setup in Person of Interest. That show never managed to explore this idea and went on a different route, one that concluded in quite a satisfying fashion. Nolan and Joy seem to be seizing the opportunity to explore that leftover idea this season, but the scenario lacks a very important element that Person of Interest had plenty of, good characters.
This season tries to build suspense, and wonder around characters that feel more like carton cutouts than three-dimensional beings that you can care for. Of course, it fails in doing it. There is no way to build suspense and tension around characters that don’t mean anything to the audience. They lack development and exploration. There are no moments on this show where the characters are allowed to be characters. Their only function is being mouthpieces, so they can deliver the next philosophical monologue or to tell the story about where to go next.
The season becomes even worse when the show tries to go back in time, creating a false sense of nostalgia, as it being to reference itself constantly. The result is a story that feels completely out of new ideas, and one that is very afraid of building something new. So the only answer is to run in circles, endlessly, until the network says enough, this is your last season. It is quite unbelievable to think that the creators of this show are the same as Person of Interest. The shows are really complete opposites.
Acting has always been wooden in Westworld, but in this season, it is even worse. The actors are not allowed to express any sense of nuanced emotion. Everything needs to be toned down or maxed out until all that is left is pure melodrama. It is a very bad choice, especially when your cast is filled with so many talented veterans from film and television. I know it is a tiresome comparison, but when text on a screen has more emotion in Person of Interest than full flesh actors in Westworld, something is wrong.
Season 4 of Westworld is a big disappointment. Even when talking about production values, the show looks way cheaper than past seasons, so there is nothing even on a visual level that can cause awe. The show goes further into a rabbit hole of its own making by putting ideas before characters. For years, the characters have been looking for the maze’s exit, it seems the final answer is that there is no exit at all.